Treatment Type Matters in Shoulder Injuries in NFL Players

February 22, 2018

DETROIT – Players in the National Football League who opted for surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder are at less risk of re-injury once they return to play, compared to those who don’t have surgery, according to a Henry Ford Hospital study.

Researchers found that the reoccurrence rate for injury was at least twice lower for players who had their shoulder surgically repaired.

Conversely, players who opted for a non-surgical treatment such as physiotherapy or physical strengthening returned to play faster than those who had surgery. But they were at increased risk for injuring the same shoulder, the study found.

The study is published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.

“These results demonstrate the protective benefit of undergoing surgical repair on recurrence rates and time to reinjury for the professional athletes,” says Vasilios (Bill) Moutzouros, M.D., chief of the Division of Sports Medicine in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Henry Ford and the study’s senior author.

“Balancing the short-term and long-term repercussions of shoulder instability are vital to appropriate counseling of patients after they have an unstable shoulder.”

In a retrospective study, researchers sought to determine whether a particular treatment type played a factor in NFL players returning to play at a high level. Dr. Moutzouros and research colleagues collected and analyzed data of 83 players who sustained a dislocated or partial dislocated shoulder during play between the 2006 and 2014 seasons. Key highlights:

  • 77 players returned to play after an in-season injury regardless of their treatment method.
  • Players who had surgery played at least 39 weeks without reinjury. 
  • Players who opted for a non-surgical treatment were twice as likely to reinjure the same shoulder after returning to play.

Dr. Moutzouros cautioned that the findings be balanced with the study’s limitations, most notably that the data assessed did not include a player’s prior medical history or type of surgical repair.

The study was funded by Henry Ford Hospital.


David Olejarz